Monday 27 January 2020

Noonan defends Alan Shatter as a ‘very credible minister’

Lyndsey Telford

GOVERNMENT ministers have rallied round embattled Justice Minister Alan Shatter insisting the issue of his failure to give a breath test at a Garda checkpoint is over.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said his Fine Gael and cabinet colleague was the most reforming minister the Department of Justice has had "for a long time".

"It's the end of the matter as far as I'm concerned," Mr Noonan said.

As the finance minister, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Health Minister James Reilly leapt to Mr Shatter's defence, Fianna Fail announced it is to table a motion of no confidence in him next week.

The opposition party has accused Mr Shatter of hypocrisy after he confirmed he was stopped at a garda checkpoint several years ago and failed to give a breath test blaming his asthma.

The minister, a TD at the time of the incident in late 2008 or early 2009, is also alleged to have told garda he was travelling home from the Dail.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath made the matter public and has since gone on to raise further concerns over Mr Shatter's attitude to gardai on duty at the checkpoint.

The controversy followed Mr Shatter's refusal to resign after revealing on television that Independent TD Mick Wallace had avoided prosecution for driving while using a mobile phone.

But Mr Noonan offered his colleague staunch defence.

"I think he's a great minister. The most reforming minister we have had for a long time," he said.

Mr Noonan, who served as justice minister himself in the 1980s, defended Mr Shatter's relationship with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan - the source of his information on Mr Wallace - and said it was important the pair maintain a good relationship.

"The Garda Commissioner under law is obliged to fully brief the Minister for Justice, so as part of the full briefing all sorts of things can come up in the conversation," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Reilly claimed that Mr McGrath's questions about the Garda checkpoint and breath test were confused.

The Tipperary TD said he had been given information of the incident by members of the public and that he understood it happened in 2011, around the time Mr Shatter became minister.

"I think Minister Shatter has made a clear statement on the matter and has explained the circumstances around the issue," Mr Reilly said.

Elsewhere, Labour minister Mr Quinn said it was an exaggeration to suggest Mr Shatter was running Big Brother style surveillance after publicising the incident with Mr Wallace.

"I think this has been blown out of all proportion," Mr Quinn said.

Yesterday in a statement dealing with questions raised by Mr McGrath, Mr Shatter rejected claims that he had been stopped around the time of the last general election but that there was an incident at a checkpoint in 2009 or late 2008 when he was stopped at night by gardai on Pembroke Street, Dublin.

Mr Shtter said he had been asked to give a breath sample but his asthma prevented him from fully completing the test.

Questions have since been raised about Mr Shatter relying on a Constitutional right for members of the Oireachtas to avoid arrest when travelling to or from Leinster House.

Mr Shatter has been under intense pressure over his handling of the controversy surrounding the quashing of fixed charged penalties for road traffic offences.

He revealed that the Garda Commissioner had briefed him about Mr Wallace being stopped by a garda at the Five Lamps in north Dublin while using a phone and driving.

Mr Shatter said it had been introduced as an aside and was necessary in case Mr Wallace had revealed it himself.

Mr Callinan has not commented on the briefing.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News